Interview With Gaurav Pandey, Founder, Hashtag Whydeas - Digital Vidya

Interview With Gaurav Pandey, Founder, Hashtag Whydeas

Pradeep Chopra (Co-Founder, Digital Vidya): Digital marketing has seen massive growth as a marketing career path, with no signs of slowing down.

And even if you aren’t looking to switch careers and become a marketing expert, this skill set is essential for business owners and others working to attract and convert clients.

As the digital marketing industry is predicted to reach $807 billion by 2026, the scope of building a career as well as growing your business’s online presence is immense.

Gaurav pandeyTo gain more insights into the swiftly growing industry and the various marketing aspects, I spoke to the founder of Hashtag Whydeas, Gaurav Pandey.

Having been in the industry for 18+ years, Gaurav has been associated with several brands such as Paytm, Flipkart, Microsoft, Zee funded startups such as Sheroes, iProf, Tupelo, BimaDirect, SpoonJoy, Intellitots, U2opia Mobile, etc.

Having expertise in Social Media Marketing, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Brand Consulting, Advertising, Public Relations, Brand Design, Product Marketing, and Growth Marketing, Gaurav has assisted several SMEs, Small businesses, and Startups entrepreneurs in building a gated holistic marketing & growth eco-system.

According to you, in what kind of situations, conventional marketing techniques (e.g. Newspaper/TV) are still valuable?

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Gaurav: Matter of fact is that we are talking ‘marketing’ here. Marketing is not transitioning from conventional to digital, it’s evolving fundamentally. It’s like evolving from fixed-line phones to mobile phones to smartphones. It’s the phase of evolution towards better.

And when you see it that way, you understand that the job of a marketer remains the same ie. To reach out to your best customers, via the best possible & most relevant communication channel.

So a better version of this question above will be, how to design a reach-out strategy for today’s digital world. This is a technologically evolved new world, where customers cannot distinguish offline marketing v/s online marketing, consciously.

For customers, it’s the brand, trying to get their attention.

So that should be a marketer’s approach as well. Where my customer is? At what places, whether digital or physical, I can catch my customers in a state of the best intention to engage with my product? What channels shall be most effective? What serving size & types, at what stage of engagement shall work best?

Imagine a BigBoss TV show, running only Facebook, Instagram & Google ad campaigns. Or boAt running only TV ad campaigns to reach out to customers.

To answer the question, the best scenarios to go for conventional channels of communication will work best when combined with digital communication. If connecting with your audience via conventional channels gives you an edge to establish strong brand engagement, you should opt for it.

Examples: Shaadi.com (They opened several physical centers, where less tech-savvy mom-pops can come to understand it better)

LensKart opened several stores in India to make people comfortable by checking their products physically to establish brand trust. People buy things online with much less hesitation from the brands they trust, and have experienced physically.

Digital mediums of marketing communication are taking the guesswork out of the equation, by helping marketers measure better, target more closely, and optimize RoAS (Return on ad spend), which was nearly impossible via traditional ways of marketing.

This is the next leg of growth for marketing, as an industry.

Which are your favorite Digital Marketing channels/techniques (e.g. LinkedIn, SEO, Facebook Ads) and why?

Gaurav: Again as a marketer, it depends on what product you are trying to sell. If you’re trying to sell digital glucometer to the elderly, maybe Facebook shall be a good option for digital reach out, but if you combine it with newspaper campaigns, it shall give you a wider acceptance among that particular segment of customers.

However, you may also want to reach out to their young adult children in their 20s and 30’s via digital channels like Google ads or YouTube campaigns, because they shall be searching for glucometers online, or educating themselves on diabetes management via YouTube content.

Understanding platform-specific behavior, as well as the psychography of your target audience and sub-audience, shall equip you better.

So by subdividing your audience into multiple niche segments, and designing highly personalized intent-based communication, you can increase the chances of your success.

There are no favorites.

Why do you think most marketers bet heavily on “online advertising” as part of their digital marketing strategy? Do you think that the resource allocation including budget distribution between Online Ads and SEO/Organic is justified?

Gaurav: Well, there are various reasons for that, and also depends on the purpose.

For example startups, especially the funded ones, actually need to scale their customer acquisition so fast that advertising campaigns such as Google ads become a key tool for their growth strategy.

On one hand, well-established brands with deep pockets, of course, has the purchasing power, and thus they want more inventory of advertising space to dominate their category.

On the other hand, a small business with a limited budget would prefer to grow by organic means so that they stay positive in unit economics.

However, I have a strong belief that we must avoid generalizations like this one above. Instead, our strategy should always have a marketing mix depending on the current stage of growth.

I call it ‘staged marketing’. Lemme explain it.

If you’re planning to build a community of marketing professionals you should focus on getting your first 100 users quickly ie. Stage 1.

Now going from 0-100 users require a very different strategy, then going from 100-1k, or 100-10k.

In this particular example, you may want to engage marketing influencers on LinkedIn, CMOs, and marketing content YouTubers who have a following. Try engaging them via one-on-one chat, and deep interviews.

This shall help you gain your first 100 users quickly. And you need not spend a dime for that. Stage 2 (100-1K). Now you need to utilize your content with YouTubers to build a rapport with marketing apprentices and reach them via (maybe) Google Ads, and LinkedIn Ads by offering free tools, PDFs, courses, and content.

Stage 3 (1k-10K). Now you probably want to set up a strong organic growth strategy including a well-designed content marketing-based growth plan, and SEO. Not to mention, they complement each other dramatically.

Stage 4 (10k-100k). Now you want to scale the community where you act as a platform, and let your users create content and engagement. So you use content advertising as a tool to bring in a mass number of users from your niche, in addition to your organic growth strategy.

Stage 5 (Selling). Now you want to sell a paid course, and tools to your community members, so you may want to increase your advertising spend to highlight the benefits of premium stuff. You may want to run retargeting campaigns, gain target audience behavioral insights, to design highly relevant communication, and copies so that you would find advertising your best aid.

So it’s never a linear equation to solve. A better marketer is one who knows how to use a particular tool in a particular situation.

Overall a marketer ideally should always aim to reduce their advertising spent in the long term and draw a balance between paid v/s organic growth for the organization.

What do you recommend between outsourcing Digital Marketing to an Agency and doing it in-house? Why?

Gaurav: Think in terms of RoTS ie. Return on Time Spent.

If spending more time on your product shall improve your odds of success then you shall opt to outsource the execution. I’ll suggest hiring a digital expert or CMO in-house to help you build internal digital intelligence while outsourcing.

He’ll not only bridge the gap between you and the technical jargon of a media agency but will help you keep things in check as well.

However, if you’ve grown significantly enough, and growing a digital marketing team in-house will help you save on cost, as well as execute ideas faster, then keeping it in-house is a good decision.

There is a third-case scenario as well. When you find your internal marketing team experiences intelligence fatigue, you may want to explore external nudges to refresh things.

What do you think is the role of technology in marketing in today’s world? Would you like to share any good examples in which technology is efficiently leveraged for the success of marketing?

Gaurav: Technology is making marketing more efficient. It is helping marketers understand customers much better. Serve quite selectively, and effectively.

Globally marketing teams are helping product teams design better products. Helping the sales team close efficiently. Helping top management predict the future with data & analytics, and designing more sustainable businesses.

According to you, what are the top 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Digital Marketing?

Gaurav: Shortsightedness on the importance of data collection & organizing for decision-making. It’s not only for giants, but even a small startup with 2 co-founders can leverage the data intelligence to design a high-growth product.

A loose definition of content marketing. Content is the “gain from experiencing your content piece”. Content can be as effective as advertising to generate long-term growth, with the right funneling strategy, with absolute clarity of content strategy in place.

Spreading too thin. Doing too many things simultaneously may look sexy to brag about, but it dilutes your energy, effort, and strategic focus to an extent of the insignificant impact. In marketing, and in life, success comes from repeating what’s working.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends in Digital Marketing? Which Digital Marketing resources (i.e. blogs/websites/apps) do you visit regularly?

Gaurav: I use Feedly. It allows me to add all the useful blogs, websites, and publishers from marketing, and advertising domains in a scannable format. Quite useful.

Which brands according to you are exceptionally successful in leveraging Digital Marketing?

Gaurav: Some of the brands in my view are:

  • Zomato
  • Swiggy
  • Mi
  • BurgerKing USA
  • Bournvita
  • Tanishq

Who are the 3 people you admire for their contribution to the Digital Marketing industry?

Gaurav: I look forward to the following people:

  • Rand Fishkin (MOZ)
  • Avinash Kaushik of Occam’s Razor (Analytics).
  • Dharmesh Shah (HubSpot)
  • Loren Baker (Search Engine Journal)

How do you see Digital Marketing evolve in the future? What are the top 3 trends you foresee for 2023 and beyond?

Gaurav: Google algo’s useful content update hints us towards a wider trend that is about to spread horizontally, which is concentrating on the purposefulness & usefulness of the content. Maybe it’ll surpass the backlink obsession, and AI shall help Google to design the new ranking regime.

Video will continue to play the best carrier of content, however, this usefulness shall also impact video content generation.

Spending on Creative Content (read Advertisements), will claim even more space in digital advertising, against television.
Increasingly launches of D2C brands, a higher degree of time spent online by consumers will attract more creative content spending.

Next to this is creative advertising in a Metaverse kind of setup, which is not far from becoming mainstream in the next 3-5 years.

Blockchain Data Analytics. I’m not sure if this is relevant for your audience but decentralized access, processing, and analyzing digital consumer data is the next evitable future.

Web3 is about decentralizing data storage, bringing in more transparency of the use of data, but at the same time higher degree of privacy to a digital citizen. Which opens the gate for open data analytics for organizations and marketers.

I see the use of blockchain in digital advertising & analytics as a bigger trend than in FinTech.

If you were given the power to make one change in the Digital Marketing industry today, what would you do?

Gaurav: I would want to make it compulsory for all digital marketers to first learn creative advertising, branding, storytelling, and consumer psychology. Also, work 1 year in sales before joining the league.

Next, I wish I could prioritize ad space auctioning to the hyper-local level, to increase the chances of the level field playing for small & local businesses on ad networks, and restrict giants from advertising hyper-locally.

Do you recommend that freshers should consider “Digital Marketing” for building their career? What is your advice for newbies, who are looking at entering the Digital Marketing industry?

Gaurav: Digital marketing is an extension of marketing, so it is for those aspiring to a marketing career. It’s absolutely not a new trend in town to jump in for high packages. If you love consumer psychology, if you love selling, if you love marketing; it is for you. Welcome.

But if you’re not a sales & marketing mind, you’ll struggle. So IIT’ians don’t make great marketers.

What are the top skills (other than technical skills such as SEO/SEM) you look for when hiring a candidate for an entry-level role in Digital Marketing?

Gaurav: Three skills I look forward to are:

  • Curiosity to understand customer, product, and market scenarios.
  • Creativity to find multiple paths to the same goal.
  • A bias for data & testing, and less guesswork.

Would you like to share a few words about the Digital Marketing education we are imparting at Digital Vidya?

Gaurav: I know you, Pradeep, for the last 10-12 years or so, though we have never engaged each other earlier, the kind of work you have been doing over the last decade is commendable.

Though there are many digital marketing influencers in India, the kind of content library you have produced with a systematic approach from a skill development point of view is far more than just influencing, and building a more sustainable supply of skilled brains.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Gaurav: At the start of a career, a marketer (or digital marketer), should aim to work in an agency setup, to experience the variety of industrial approaches toward digital marketing. But once you feel you have got it enough and start gaining clarity, think of shifting towards specific brands and organizations.

Pradeep (to Gaurav): Thank you Gaurav for providing such insightful details about your digital marketing journey as well as the future trends of digital marketing.

Pradeep (to our readers): I hope you find the insights shared by Gaurav valuable. In case you have any questions for him or me, please post them in the comments section.

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